Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ageism, Racism and Fear-The Blockades to Progress

I'm gong to go on a  little rant, there are some things I need to get out of  my system. And there are some things that desperately need to be heard.
Here we are in the most exciting, frightening and emotionally charged social-political atmosphere since the 60's. There is so much potential right now at this moment in history for true empowerment and justice...you can feel it in the air. All over the world people are taking to the streets employing diverse strategies to send their message to the ruling elite that we are pissed and we are not going to take any more. Of all these groups there are many who also dare to take their message a step further and say we are hopeful, we are creating a new future for ourselves and the generations to come.
Now I'm not the most patient person in the world, never have been...but I've been around for a little over a half a century and that in itself forces one to accept the truth that change happens slowly. It probably should happen slowly. Decisions made in the heat of passion, anger or frustration are generally not well planned and are often doomed to fail, we all know that. But the changes we see happening now are not the result of some new trend...they've been simmering and brewing in the cauldron of discontent for decades. Now, before the whole thing boils over it's time to take a look at the recipe.
Anger, ok we've got plenty of that, along with discontent, these are after all essential ingredients for change given the nature of human beings. Let's stir it up a little more....I'm looking for some unity and hope....hmmm maybe a little floating around but that anger is so congealed it can't quite blend in. Stir with a whisk...frothy slimy mixture and damn that anger isn't dissolving. What is wrong with this potion? Let me look at the book...uh oh "anger, when not properly blended may congeal to a substance known as mistrust". Crap. Now what? and how did this happen? who was watching the kettle?
One can argue whether social change follows a distinct formula or not, but I do think I can say that there are some things we have learned from our past mistakes; things that I hope we do not repeat.
Number one is not learning from past mistakes. History repeats itself only because we, people, allow it to do so. We do this by failing to review the past. We refuse to listen to our Elders, thinking that our times are different and so are we.

We all have to take responsibility for educating ourselves, asking questions, listening and utilizing critical thinking to make our own informed choices....and I think we really need to encourage other people to do this. As we (people my age) become The Elders we have a responsibility and the honor to share our experience and wisdom, even if only to admit our mistakes and analyze what we may have done differently. The Youth have certain things to offer us Elders as well. Times have changed. This generation has been raised with a very different set of skills, both technological and interpersonal, than my generation. I don't see a lot of effort in our movement (locally) to bring people together in multi-generational forums where we can exchange our knowledge and talents.

To do this takes time and effort, yes, but taking the quick and easy way out has never produced real sustainable results.
 I see a lot of young people around here jumping on bandwagons without really "looking under the hood" to see what's driving the engine. I see a lot of us older people holding back, keeping our heads down and hoping for the best. We're driving our old classic bandwagons doggedly along ignoring the check engine light that's flashing before our eyes.  Once in a while we all get together and talk shop, but so far there hasn't been a lot of follow through, and the community remains unstable.

And then there's the racial/ethnic division. Milwaukee is one of  the most segregated cites in the country, and there is a lot of mistrust between all races. This has got to stop. We need to get past our overly sensitive political correctness and really get to know one another. This means open, honest and trusting dialogue. We can respect the effects of past injustice...hell worse than injustice, outright ethnic cleansing...without keeping a scorecard of who owes who or who suffered the worst. What we need to be asking is how do we prevent those kinds of atrocities from ever happening again. I think taking a look at the global community and seeing instances where this is still going on, usually well funded by US tax dollars might just be a unifying concept.

 My point is that our personal histories, biases, injuries and personalities will bleed through into our communal contribution. They will inevitably cause conflict. Someone might get offended, even if no offense was meant. We have to talk it though, look honestly at where those feelings of injury or insensitivity are rooted. Are we able to have conversations respectfully? I think we are.
What do we have to offer to our community if we ourselves are unwilling to stand by our own values..or if we think we know our values, but fail to implement them in everyday action. Collectivism is challenging because it respects individual voices while also minding the best interests of the community (and this includes the environment, the non human species, the voiceless and invisible members of society) and this is unfamiliar territory for Americans. We have been raised in a society that praises and rewards rugged individualism and self determination. I'm saying that respect for the individual and collectivism are not mutually exclusive...they can co-exist, it just takes work, commitment and very honest self examination. But on both the personal and collective levels there is a real need for education, including the tough task of self examination, soul searching and ego busting in order for us, collectively, to make well informed decisions and actions and implement them in a way that creates real and sustainable change.